The poet brings her story to the stage
Sara Abou Rashed is a poet. She started writing when she was 8 years old living in Syria, penning poems in Arabic. When, as a teenager, she moved with her mother to Columbus, she learned English and immediately began writing poems in her new language, eventually winning the Columbus District Poetry Slam.
Rashed is also a storyteller. Through her poetry, she came to the attention of Larry Smith, founder of Six Word Memoirs, who encouraged her to share her story at TED Talks and for audiences at various conferences around the world.
And now, Abou is a scriptwriter and actor, having, with Smith's help, turned her story into a one-person play titled “A Map of Myself,” which she debuted earlier this month at Denison University, where she is a student, and which she will perform Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20, at the Lincoln Theatre. Additional performances will also take place Nov. 7 and 10 at the Columbus Museum of Art.
“I have learned a lot of theater terms. I don't know if that qualifies me as a theater person yet,” Rashed joked.
“Directing a one-person play is a dream of mine,” Smith said. “I asked Sara last year after she did a presentation at the Tenement Museum in New York City, and she said, ‘I'm in.' Now we're both learning this together.”
The script of “A Map of Myself” begins with many of the core points of her presentation and includes some poetry — both Rashed's and others'. “I wanted it to be unique to me, to have the use of poetry. Poems energize, heighten the intensity,” Rashed said.
Rashed and Smith were determined to make it different from her poetry readings and TED Talks, instead using the same fundamental concepts as a jumping-off point for a deeper dive into Rashed's search for identity and her difficulties adjusting to a new country that isn't always accepting of immigrants, Muslim ones in particular.
“I talk about being only one of two women at Denison to wear the head scarf. I've talked about that before, but I connect that to a larger concept on, ‘What is the weight of a life?'” Rashed said. “I am more able to appeal to and explore different emotions, and share some more of my inner thoughts.”
“She didn't want to do [her poem] ‘I Am America.' She said so many people had already heard it. I told her you have to do your greatest hits. … Give the people what they want,” Smith said.
There are also practical matters to performing a scripted play versus making a presentation.
“Usually, I'm a very spontaneous speaker. I can go off on a tangent if I want and come back to where I was,” Rashed said. “Theater is so much more specific and intentional. Once you start, there's no going back.”